Book Review: MCDP 6, Command and Control


Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 6: Command and Control is an excellent introduction to this tortured topic and shows up some of the weird ideas current in southern Africa. Typically common sense, MCDP 6 states that “since war is a conflict between opposing wills, we can measure the effectiveness of command and control only in relation to the enemy” (p38). As an aside it is worth remembering that MCDPs are higher order doctrine publications containing the fundamental and enduring beliefs of warfighting or guiding doctrine for the conduct of major warfighting activities. Command and Control falls among the latter group.

In his foreword, then Marine Corps Commandant General Charles C Krulak stated that his intent with the manual was “to describe how we can reach and implement effective military decisions and implement effective military actions faster than an adversary in any conflict setting on any scale.” In doing so MCDP 6 provides a framework for the development and exercise of effective command and control in peace, in crisis, or in war.

The 147-page manual consists of three chapters discussing the nature of command and control, some theory and, finally, “creating effective command and control.” A fast-paced 30-page novelette set in the near future and eloquently demonstrating the main points to follow precedes these.

In an era in which too many are still obsessed by MBA-style decision-by-committee, “management” and “leadership,” it is refreshing to see that “command and control is fundamentally the business of the commander.” It is the means by which a commander (note: not a manager or leader) recognises what needs to be done and sees to it that appropriate actions are taken. It’s that simple!

How does command relate to control? “The traditional view of command and control sees ‘command’ and ‘control’ as operating in the same direction: from the top of the organisation toward the bottom.” MCDP 6 takes a different approach: “We suggest a different and more dynamic view of command and control which sees command as the exercise of authority and control as feedback about the effects of the action taken… “Command and control is thus an interactive process involving all the parts of the system and working in all directions.”

Contrast this with the view found in the Sunday edition of the Business Report in July 2002. In a surprisingly naïve article (Training college helps military change its spots, by Na-iem Dollie) former chief of joint training, Major-General Ashwin Hurribunce, was quoted saying that the SANDF had overhauled its military culture and made a “fundamental shift from the ‘straightforward command and control’ (whatever that means), to one that engenders cultural diversity and accepts that stereotypes will have to be ended if the military is to contribute to nation building.”

In the present SA National Defence Force managers abound (for example the obscenely bloated Military Health Service employs “area managers”) and senior and general officers are often described as middle and upper management, as if the military can be compared with a biscuit baking enterprise!
(This review was written in October 2002. The views still stand)

Command and Control


Headquarters, United States Marine Corps

Department of the Navy,

Washington, DC